One of the questions that I get most often from students is “which calculators are allowed on the ACT?” Used correctly, a calculator can be one of the most valuable tools you have at your disposal on the ACT; however, you don’t want to show up to the testing site on the day of the test and find that your calculator is banned. Because of this, it’s important to know what the ACT’s policy is concerning which calculators you can use on the test; that way, you can avoid any unwanted surprises on test day and focus on maximizing your Math score.
So which calculators are allowed on the ACT?
The ACT allows students to use any 4-function, scientific, or graphing calculator that doesn’t violate their restrictions; of these options, the TI-84 Plus and the TI-Nspire (non-CAS) are two of the models most commonly used in American high school math classes, but there are many others. Because of this, it’s actually easiest to approach the question from the opposite direction; that is…
Which calculators cannot be used on the ACT?
The ACT’s calculator policy prohibits several types of devices. The most notable of these is any calculators with built-in or downloaded computer algebra system functionality; the TI-Nspire CAS is one of the most common examples of a calculator that has that functionality built in. Other restrictions that may affect whether you can use your calculator on the ACT include:
- No handheld, tablet, or laptop computers
- No electronic writing pads or pen-input devices (with one or two exceptions)
- No cell phone calculators
- No calculators with QWERTY-format letter keys
Check out the ACT website for the most up-to-date details about the ACT’s calculator policy.
These restrictions on approved calculators typically don’t surprise many people; I can count on zero hands the number of students who have asked me whether they can use their paper-tape calculator on test day, for instance. The only place where students sometimes run into problems with their calculators not being allowed on the ACT is the policy prohibiting computer algebra system functionality, as the TI-Nspire CAS is required (or recommended) for some levels of math at certain high schools.
What should I do if my calculator isn’t permitted?
I highly recommend that all students have access to an approved graphing calculator on ACT test day, as it can significantly speed up the process of solving a number of problems in the average Math section. If you have a calculator that is prohibited (or if you don’t have a calculator at all), consider borrowing a non-prohibited device from a friend or sibling. Some schools will also allow you to check calculators out temporarily. If you do have to buy one, look for a model that isn’t one of the most recent, such as the TI-83 Plus; many of these older calculators have all of the features you need for the ACT at a slightly lower price.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you give yourself enough time to become familiar with the functionality of the calculator that you’ll be using. Know how to do things like graph equations quickly and confidently; you don’t want to waste precious time on test day trying to figure out where the ‘y=’ button is!
Finally, if you’d like some advice on how best to use your (allowed) calculator on the ACT or tips regarding any other aspect of ACT prep, head over to Inspirica Pros’ ACT headquarters. Our squad of ACT gurus loves nothing more than helping students crush the test.